27 January 2013

Mr. Squish and the causeheads.

Oh yeah… there was a war going on when “Mr. Squish” was running. For about a month, anyway.

The day the Persian Gulf War began, I was cranking out another edition of Black Culture Magazine at the house of Carl, my editor. I know; I’m so white I dare not go out in the sun for fear of spontaneously combusting. Yet for whatever reason, I worked for several African-American publications in the early 1990s. Probably ’cause the editors looked at my résumé, and not at the skin color of the honkey looking across the desk from them. Anyway, Carl usually had CNN on, and that day, CNN was all about the bombing. It was distracting. We got the magazine out anyway.

A few weeks later I was back at CSU Sacramento. The quadrangle, as usual, was full of causeheads. If you don’t know what that is, a “causehead” is a person who just isn’t happy unless there’s something to protest. Whatta you got? They’ll grab a sign.

One week they were protesting fraternities. (Why? Because they were racist, sexist, homophobic old-boys clubs. And they wouldn’t pledge them. So there.) The next, they were protesting whatever deep, dark secret George H.W. Bush was keeping from the American people, regardless of whether that secret even existed, but they were mighty sure it did, and it was evil. The next, they were protesting student fee hikes, which happened nearly every semester anyway. (The annoying hikes were the retroactive ones: They’d announce, mid-semester, they were raising fees, and if you didn’t pay up, you were suspended from your classes.) And this week, the Gulf War.

We didn’t call them causeheads back then. If we had, the word would’ve been in the strip. Here’s the strip.

Mr. Squish, CSUS Hornet, February 1991.

I think the first time I ever actually heard the term “causehead” was in this really dreadful movie called PCU. Brilliant premise, terrible execution. A clearly 30-year-old Jeremy Piven played a 20-something college student at a campus which was so politically correct, you couldn’t party properly. (Yeah, that was the problem: Not being able to get really drunk or stoned and have embarrassing sex.) Anyway, in the course of the movie, Piven and his buddies rectified the situation. But the movie wasn’t funny, and Piven and his friends came off kinda douchey (as Piven will), so there y’are.

The real problem with political correctness is how it can stifle the freedom of speech. But the producers of PCU weren’t interested in that, or in any weighty political statement. Probably because they’d ruin their Hollywood careers, since many actors and producers are themselves causeheads. So they chose to make fun of the idea of causeheadery, though poorly.

At Sac State, we just called them “the protesters.” ’Cause that’s what they were: Protesters. Protesting something. Anything. Something, at least once a week.

Now, I had been at Sac State one semester by now. I already knew the causeheads were leaping from issue to issue, like a game of political Frogger. The war was largely wrapping up by this point: Iraq was out of Kuwait, which was our only mission; mission accomplished. Too bad Bush’s son didn’t learn from his father’s example, but that’s another rant. Still, the causeheads were out in force, protesting the war, “No Blood for Oil” signs nice and prominent, oblivious to the fact they’d get their wish fairly soon. And protesting in entirely the wrong location: Who in Washington D.C. was gonna see what was taking place in a Sacramento university’s quad?

So in this strip, I called ’em on it. They were only protesting the war because they wanted the experience of protesting a war. They had missed out on their parents’ experience of protesting a never-ending, poorly-defined, nation-dividing, largely-futile war, and they wanted to experience that for themselves. You know, like Iraq. (Having lived through the Iraq War, you think they really missed out?)

Now, my parents hadn’t protested the Vietnam War. Not that they were for it: Dad had to go to Vietnam with the Air Force, and Mom had to live with her in-laws during that time, and none of that was fun. (I was conceived once Dad got home.) My largely Republican family were probably all for whatever secret plan Richard Nixon had to get us out of there, which turned out to consist of carpet-bombing. In any event I didn’t grow up listening to my parents’ nostalgia for their days as student radicals. Neither had been students. And Dad was still in the Air Force at the time, flying cargo to Kuwait.

Still, the Gulf War was nothing like Vietnam. (Or Iraq.) The vast majority of the country supported that war. Bush’s approval ratings were over 90 percent after we won. I’m not kidding. Nobody had racked up those approval numbers since James Monroe. The fact that he lost the ’92 election to Bill Clinton just goes to show what a fluke it was.

So the war protests clearly identified the causeheads as either the less-than-10-percent who don’t approve of any war period (which is a position I do actually respect), or as people who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

Oh, the Simpsons viewing parties. Yep, they existed. The Simpsons were huge on campus. But the Hornet’s production schedule had us producing the Friday edition every Thursday night. So I never made it to any of those parties. I had to watch the show on my VCR later. C’est la vie.